How to Stimulate Your Creative Thinking

By John Rocheleau
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creative-unknown.jpg

Are you wondering how to stimulate creativity and trigger your creative thought process?

If so, begin by answering this question: Do you mostly think in words, or in images and feelings? This is important, because your personal thought patterns will determine your creative potential, and ultimately your success. True success in life is always a creative endeavor.

If words dominate your thoughts, you will not be able to stimulate your mind to access your creativity within.

Leonard Cohen is a good example of a rich creative spirit. Have you listened to his songs? They are unique and powerful because his words convey speechless concepts.

His main mode of thought is rich in feeling and imagery, even though his creative output is in words. When you hear his songs or read his poems, you get the message, because he doesn’t put words to his thoughts prematurely. He waits for the creative awareness to mature. And when the words come, they respect the power and depth of his inspiration. They fluidly bend and lend their definitions to express the creative output of his soul.

“I want you, I want you, I want you
on a chair with a dead magazine.
In the cave at the tip of the lily,
in some hallway where love’s never been.
On a bed where the moon has been sweating,
in a cry filled with footsteps and sand”

… from Leonard Cohen’s “Take This Waltz” (after Lorca)

Your feelings and subtle mental imagery are unlimited. They express your pure creative truth. Leonard Cohen is unique because he understands the sacredness of creative thought. He instinctively knows that words are only messengers. They are neither the creation nor the creator of thought.

The creative void — and words

When you hear words used this way, they do not stop you at the line drawn by literal definition. They allow you to pass beyond into the creative vortex of your spirit. This strange, often vacant place, is where magic feels comfortable. It is there that your spirit and your creative muse reach out to communicate with you.

This creative void is within you, and like a vacuum it draws your spirit to create inspirations, emotions, images, and conceptions from your inner universe. Words have no place in this space. It is there as fertile ground to nurture the seeds of your nature, watered by experience.

But words are tenacious; they grab your mind; they fill your creative void, overwriting your wisdom and inspiration with their limited definitions. They regurgitate what you have said before, what others have said to you, and what you have read.

Words, used as commonly prescribed, are a coarse attempt to express your incredible depth and range of creative perception. Words are not at all profound. They can only point to the profound. Words describe. They are there to communicate your inner world to your outer world. But because you spend so much time communicating in words, both written and spoken, you allow them to fill all of the available spaces — to the point where you hear nothing but these words in your head.

When their definitions block the subtle and liquid voice of your spirit, you will no longer feel the power of that sacred and creative void within you.

Changing thought patterns

You can improve your Creative thinking skills the same way you have mastered other skill sets — by focussed practice. Here are 3 suggestions to stimulate creative thinking.

  • Practice meditation: Meditation is the practice of honoring your creative void. Through it, you learn to let go of your mind’s tendency to think in words. You become adept at ignoring the urge to follow the pointless tangents of the mind’s word stream. When the words stop, you enter your creative void and your universe expands. Try my Little Buddha Walking meditation for an enjoyable way to meditate.
  • Wake up your creative imagination: Everyone is creative, each in their own way. Learn to recognize and honor your particular brand of imagination and creativity. Find ways to visually and physically play with it. When you exercise your creative mind you move beyond your intellect and its prison of words. Imagination empowers your creative imagery and feelings.
  • Listen to yourself: You might not realize the depth of what you miss due to the unceasing flow of words through your mind. Take time out to listen to your mind’s constant chatter. Become aware of just how pervasive it is. Ask yourself if you would consciously choose these thoughts. Are they important, or are they just random regurgitations of yesterday’s experiences? If they weren’t there, what would take their place? Now, practice being in that place where you can perceive, visualize, and formulate without being limited by words and sentences and definitions.

If you practice the above 3 suggestions, you will gradually reduce the amount and volume of the words that take up so much of that precious creative space in your mind. You will clear that creative void so that your spirit can drift into it and gestate.

When you experience that void, it is like giving birth. It is not something you have defined or intellectually formulated. It is an unknown. It is a gift that you accept, then develop and share using words as a vehicle as necessary.

It is in the mystery, the surprise, and the darkness of the unknown that you progress in depth of knowledge, experience, and spirit.

This vast creative unknown within you is the breeding ground of creative thinking. Don’t let words get in the way.

Over to you now…

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21 comments ↓

#1 Jean Browman--Cheerful Monk on 08.21.08 at 4:33 pm

I’m primarily a visual thinker. It’s a much faster way of thinking, which means it’s hard to talk to someone when I’m thinking. The images are at least two dimensional, whereas words tend to come in a linear fashion. And it’s impossible to talk as fast as the images come. People who talk fast are often visual thinkers.

#2 Nathalie Lussier on 08.21.08 at 5:38 pm

I love it. I’m definitely a visual thinker. I do think that meditation helps a lot in stirring my imagination and creativity. There’s something about just being alone that does it too. Give me a pen and paper and watch interesting ideas pour out! :)

#3 banji on 08.21.08 at 7:12 pm

This is new to me. I never realize that creativity can be hindered by words. Come to think of it, it does make sense, word take too much time relative to thinking speed.

Thank you for the great article, John.

#4 Monica on 08.21.08 at 7:16 pm

There is so much poetry on this page. Another beautifully creative and visual article.
I would say that I am image and feeling based, with a very strong analytical mind. I am learning to ask “how” and let creativity come now, as opposed to trying to think things through. It is helping.
The one thing that is great for me is using my hands. Gardening, pottery and cooking are grounding and seem to stir up the creativity. Perhaps it’s because they dull the noise of thoughts.
Thanks John!

#5 Bamboo Forest on 08.21.08 at 7:32 pm

You have such a fresh writing style. Really intriguing.

#6 Zura on 08.22.08 at 5:55 am

Just stumbled upon your blog and wow! what a beautiful writer you are. So much here. You have succinctly described some very important, and hard to describe, points. I’m a visual thinker and often have difficulty talking. And yet words do often dominate my thoughts. I journal to get the words out of the way and I do art in my journal to get the abstract ideas down.

#7 John Rocheleau on 08.22.08 at 10:56 am

Jean: And because mental imagery is multi-dimensional, the information it contains is much richer. Not sure I agree that visual thinkers are fast talkers though. I think fast talking is more due to an insecurity about oneself.

Nathalie: I’m glad you are meditating. It will continue to open more and deeper doors of awareness and expression. Like any path into the unknown, it has its rough and muddy patches. The deeper down the path you travel, the more you will be challenged. But it is worth twice the price. There are worlds within you that are beyond even your imagination. Such power.

Banji: The problem with too many words in your head is not an issue of speed of thought, but of quality of thought. Existence is infinitely richer and more dynamic than the capacity of words to describe it. If our mind is overrun with constant words, then we cannot perceive the richness and power that churns just beneath our curtain of words.

Monica: Being physical to dull the noise of thoughts is a fabulous way to release the creative mind from its cognitive jail.

The analytical mind is a wonderful thing. I have a very strong one myself. The best that we can aspire to is to form a good relationship with these two minds of ours. They should get along really well, because they compliment each other so perfectly. In truth, they love one another; they don’t want to go it alone. It’s our job to be a matchmaker for them; to balance them with each other.

Bamboo: Thank you for your compliment on my writing. I hope that what I have to say, and how I say it, communicates beyond the words on the page. I deliberately double-space my expression so that people can read between the lines. I prefer leaving room for you to add to it.

Zura: Thank you also for your kind thoughts regarding my writing. There is so much I have to express; so much that has not yet entered the worded and analytical mind, but yet is solidly understood within. I let these things stay where they are; free to develop. When I write, I try to stand out of the way and let the creative thoughts make friends with the worded mind. I think in time I will get better at that process.

Your description of how you often have difficulty talking as a visual thinker, causes me to feel that you have a conflict between your cognitive worded mind and your creative mind. You say that words often dominate your thoughts and that you journal to get them out of the way. Perhaps your worded mind can make friends with your creative mind. Your journal that also comprises visual art is an excellent way to do that.

Another thing you might consider is the direct approach. Talk to yourself. Have a gentle and loving conversation with these two beautiful and able aspects of you. The aspect of your mind that is filled with too many words at times, just needs to know where it is valued and balanced. This type of internal dialog now and then can be a good thing :-)

#8 Jean Browman--Cheerful Monk on 08.22.08 at 11:31 am

John,
You write, “Not sure I agree that visual thinkers are fast talkers though. I think fast talking is more due to an insecurity about oneself.” I agree that sometimes fast talking can be due to an insecurity about oneself, but someone once did a study and found visual thinkers tend to be fast talkers…we’re trying to explain what’s going on in our minds. And sometimes fast talking can be a sign of sheer exuberance.

On the other hand I was at a workshop once and a fellow asked me a question. I didn’t answer right away and he started to push me to respond immediately…he thought I was trying to edit my thoughts. Instead I was trying to look carefully at the image in my mind. The experience was a revelation for both of us.

#9 Jean Browman--Cheerful Monk on 08.22.08 at 11:36 am

For me the best way to foster creativity is to have a sense of humor and a spirit of play.

#10 John Rocheleau on 08.22.08 at 11:49 am

Jean: I think you nailed another aspect of fast talking, with the idea of “sheer exuberance.” That is so true. Sometimes we see so much and want so desperately to share it, that we run ahead of ourselves — and the person we are speaking to. Some insecurity though, is still a part of that.

I wonder how feeling-based thinking alters visual thinking as it relates to the speed of comprehension and delivery in words. Do feelings give cause for pause? I wonder if the pause you took to LOOK at the image in your mind, was really to gauge how you FELT about the image.

#11 Monica on 08.22.08 at 12:26 pm

I wanted to add to your comments John about feeling-based thinking: I have to agree with your question to Jean.

In my experience the visual thought comes with a feeling thought. It slows my speech down because I am trying to describe the feeling of the image I see in my mind. I am often tongue tied for adequate words. The only time I speak quickly is when I’m impassioned about a topic, and this is pure feeling thoughts.
Thanks for the opportunity to share.

#12 John Rocheleau on 08.22.08 at 12:57 pm

Monica I also get that lag between how I perceive and how I might word my perception when in conversation with people. I find myself pausing — and it is pregnant pause where the words are allowed to gel with the feeling. I think it is important that we respect that connection. If we speak prematurely we miss the point.

Moments of silence in conversation are often viewed as uncomfortable, but I see them as profound moments of importance. We often feel stress at being tongue-tied, but really we should relax and breathe into it, then we can express on a deeper level.

Life is about awareness, relationship, and communication. And there is so much to experience and communicate.

#13 Jean Browman--Cheerful Monk on 08.22.08 at 2:01 pm

You may be right about insecurity…in social situations where I don’t answer right away it’s because I feel secure enough to give my images full attention. One reason I write, of course, is because I get to think as long as I like before I try to express those thoughts/feelings in words. I’m more of a listener in social situations. There’s more going on in my mind than most people are interested in, so it makes more sense to tune into what’s going on inside them.

In the case of the workshop my focus was more on seeing the picture clearly…it wasn’t well defined but there was a lot there if I focused on it. That doesn’t mean I don’t often tune into my feelings, too.

#14 Jean Browman--Cheerful Monk on 08.22.08 at 6:04 pm

I disagree that my mental imagery and feelings are less limiting than words are. One of my favorite sayings is “Don’t believe everything you think. Don’t believe everything you feel.” If someone was mean to me when I was a kid and later I see someone who looks and acts similar to that person, I’m trapped by my automatic negative reaction if I don’t question it. One can be just as prejudiced against people because of the way they look as by the words we use to label them.

#15 John Rocheleau on 08.22.08 at 6:34 pm

Jean: The accuracy of our feelings is a different issue than their depth and range.

While its true that our feelings can deceive us, and often do, they still have a greater fluidity, range, and depth than words. More possibilities.

We certainly should question our feelings and mental imagery. Sometimes our feelings are completely misguided as you imply. If we have the chance to feel them though, we can resolve them. if we aren’t careful, the stream of words can block these feelings and images. In a way, this mental chatter is linked to basic fear.

When people begin meditation practice, they are amazed at how constant that chatter is when they try to be still and mentally silent. As Monica points out, when we are physically active, especially in a creative way, we experience less of this chatter. It is a fascinating thing.

#16 Lance on 08.22.08 at 7:14 pm

This is an interesting look at creativity – with the use of the creativity void. I have been thinking about this. And, it’s starting to make sense for me. We have to quiet our mind in order to really hear what we have to say. Not the spoken words. But what deep-down makes our heart sing. That’s, at least, how I’m seeing this. And I’m seeing this as a powerful experience. Meditation sounds like a good way to experience this. I have, to a degree, experienced this while biking in the early morning hours on a bike path near our house. Away from the normal “noise” of life. And these are some of the most mentally productive times I have.

#17 Jean Browman--Cheerful Monk on 08.22.08 at 7:48 pm

John,
I’ve known for years that I need a certain amount of solitude in order to keep connected with the deepest parts of myself. That practice is so well integrated into my life that I’m probably taking it for granted. Lance mentions “what deep-down makes our heart sing.” Amen to that! I spent many years when I was younger finding that for myself, and it was well worth the trip. Joseph Campbell describes it this way:

People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the physical plane will have resonances within our own innermost being and reality….

As I wrote in My Brain Is My Favorite Toy

But more important than individual tools and skills is the attitude of curiosity and playfulness…of being open to new ways of seeing and doing things. For me that means not identifying with everything I think and feel, but being able to stand back at times to notice how my brain works.

What I’m saying there is mental chatter isn’t just the words going through our heads, it’s any kind of mental activity that keeps us trapped. It seems to me that the core of meditation is being able to free ourselves of that.

#18 John Rocheleau on 08.22.08 at 9:03 pm

Lance: My experience of that void is that it is an entrance of sorts of all of existence. That may sound lofty of me, but it is my experience and I believe it to be true. There is such immense power and understanding within our reach.

I hear you on the early morning biking. I used run, then when I couldn’t anymore, I became a cyclist. I know just what you mean :-)

#19 John Rocheleau on 08.22.08 at 9:22 pm

Jean: I absolutely agree about the importance of not identifying with everything we think and feel. Identity in that sense, stops discovery. The moment we label anything — including ourselves — we tend to stop looking further. There is so much more.

And yes, mental chatter could be anything that blankets the mind so that you can’t see in.

#20 Hannah on 09.11.08 at 1:43 pm

I’ve been thinking about this lately, as I’ve noticed that I get my thoughts out better when I get them out “on paper” (or on the computer, depending on the nature of the thought). I am definitely a word person, and am a little concerned that my natural tendencies may be hindering my creativity. When I write out my thoughts, I can make some sense of them–otherwise they are just a nondescript jumble in my head. Often, my writing takes on some sort of shape (usually an outline or bubble form, or some combination of the two).

I’m still experimenting with this, but I have considered buying myself a nice Moleskin…without lines.

#21 bikehikebabe on 05.25.09 at 11:17 am

I’m bothered by mental chatter when I “try” to sleep. You can’t “try” to sleep. (My mother thought sleep was soooo important that we were sent to bed as children, before we were tired. I like to blame Mother :( ) I do a lot of exercise to avoid this.

Making a “possibility” list (Jean’s word) helps too. Then when I’m in bed my racing mind doesn’t list what I did & have yet to do. Another help is listening to a book on CD or tape. It’s not good to go to bed thinking about YOUR life.

My psychology daughter says A.D.D.s have racing minds. I asked her what a non-racing mind is like. “Someone who can think- Blue.” Is this possible? Try & don’t think about an elephant.

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